Friday, July 30, 2010

At Last: New Website Lets Status-Crazed Readers Search NYT Wedding Announcements By Snooty College, Swanky Job, Glitzy Locale.

Wondering which Harvard grads got their wedding announcement into the NYT this week, while your best friend from Northeastern never even got his calls returned by the social editor?

Interested in how many people you know got hitched last Sunday at a country barn in Greenwich, Connecticut, while you were stuck barbequing in your parents' backyard in South Brunswick?

Curious how many brides and grooms out there currently collect seven-figure bonuses at Goldman Sachs, while you continue to write an anonymous, non-paying media blog?

Or, simply put, do you have way too much time on your hands?

Yesterday, a new website,, quietly launched to solve all your problems. Its sophisticated (in all ways) search engine can take words like "Princeton" or "St. Alban's" and deliver you a list of every alumnus whose wedding or engagement made its way past the status police, and into the NYT.

Who's responsible? No idea. Its creators have registered the site anonymously.

The site's homepage reports some preliminary statistics culled from what appears to be several years worth of announcements,: 1028 mentioned rabbis, 466 included a Harvard reference, and 1566 said something about being a "director."

There are even 75 (of 3911 currently in the database) that reference the NYT itself -- nearly 2 percent of the total. We spotted sportswriter Juliet Macur and metro reporters Christine Haughney and William Rashbaum in the mix. Belated congrats to our boldface pals.

And best wishes to everyone who is now going to lose ten minutes of their life to checking their alma maters, employers and job titles. We're already done for the day.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Trespassing, Or Journalism? NYT Reporter Talks 13-Year-Old Kid Into Letting Him Into His Mom's Apartment While She's Out.

Staff members and others on assignment for us must obey the law in the gathering of news. They may not break into buildings, homes, apartments or offices.

--The New York Times Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism

In pursuing scandal rumors about Gov. David Paterson last February, a NYT reporter apparently entered the apartment of a central figure in its story without permission -- having talked the person's 13-year-old son into letting the reporter in.

This revelation came in the sworn testimony of the governor to Judge Judith Kaye, who issued her report today on her investigation into Paterson's actions -- a report that cleared the governor of any charges of criminal witness tampering in the case.

In the report, Paterson testified that in his first phone conversation on February 7 with Sherr-Una Booker -- the woman involved in a domestic violence incident with former Paterson aide David Johnson -- the two discussed repeated efforts by the NYT to interview her for a story about the governor.

The report says: "Booker testified that that she told the Governor about incidents with a Times reporter and then asked the Governor to get the media 'off [her] back.'"

But it's in Paterson's account of the call that the NYT's stunning reporting strategy is revealed.

"The Governor testified that Booker told him that a Times reporter had visited her apartment while she was out, and had persuaded her 13-year-old son to allow the reporter inside," the Kaye report says. "According to the Governor, at the reporter’s request, Booker’s son called his mother, so that the reporter could speak with her. The reporter asked Booker to provide her side of the story, representing that he had already heard from the Governor. Booker declined to comment and told the reporter to leave her apartment."

The report doesn't identify the name of the reporter, or say what happened next. The page-one story that eventually appeared on February 25 -- "Question of Influence in Abuse Case of Paterson Aide" -- carried the bylines of William K. Rashbaum, Danny Hakim, David Kocieniewski and Serge F. Kovaleski.

Does the permission of a 13-year-old boy give a reporter the right to enter a private home? The NYT's ethics rules don't specifically address the point. But we think it's helpful, in situations like this, for reporters to consider how they would feel if the situation were reversed, and answer these questions:

Would a NYT reporter or editor be unhappy to learn that a reporter was inside their apartment without their permission -- allowed in by an unsuspecting young child, incapable of making a sound judgement? And was it necessary for the reporter to enter the apartment in order to reach Booker by phone?

Assuming Paterson's sworn testimony is true, this marks the second time in recent months that a NYT reporter has entered a private home without proper permission. In reporting a City Room blog post about jazz pianist Hank Jones, Corey Kilgannon entered his apartment the day after his death, with only the permission of his roommate/landlord, and without getting permission from a family member. That ignited a firestorm of criticism of Kilgannon's tactics from Jones's family and friends.

It's time for the NYT to expand its rules about the invasion of privacy, so that none of us has to fear the possibility of coming home to unexpectedly find a NYT reporter in our living room.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Not Again! NYT's Katharine Q. Seelye Falls For Phony Alvin Greene Campaign Video Posted On YouTube By Pranksters.

Last Thursday night, NYT political reporter Katharine Q. Seelye posted what she thought was an hilarious scoop: a new hip-hop campaign video from South Carolina Democratic senate candidate Alvin Greene.

With no attribution, Seelye reported on the NYT's Caucus blog that the candidate "is now out" with a campaign video, and said that Greene "credits himself as producer, director and editor, and lists 'Dad' as 'first camera' and himself as 'second camera.'"

But by Friday morning, it had become widely apparent that Seelye had fallen victim to a video prank perpetrated by some bored hip-hop producers -- not having bothered to check its authorship before attributing it to Greene on the NYT's website.

"I didn't have anything to do with it, but I'll take credit for it," Greene told ABC News on Friday. "The video looks good. The music is good. It's cool."

As the day wore on, comments piled up on the Seelye post wondering why it wasn't being updated with the truth -- that the video had been posted by someone named "Virgiltexas" on YouTube, with no previous YouTube history, and some connection to a website known as "Satellite High."

Mewnwhile, CNN interviewed one of the hip-hop producers -- Jay Friedman of San Francisco -- who claimed co-authorship of the video.

"I just like making funny music, and a friend of mine on Twitter approached me asking, 'You wanna do this'," Friedman told CNN. "It was kind of inside jokey thing."

But now, where was Seelye? How had the NYT's national political correspondent come to attribute the video to Greene in the first place -- and why had she still not corrected her post, hours after it had become clear she had misreported the story?

In an email response to questions from The NYTPicker, Seelye now admits that she completely blew it -- failing first to check properly with Greene, and then missing multiple opportunities to correct her mistake after other media outlets had corrected the record.

"Tried checking with Mr. Greene on Thursday (as you know, there is no "Greene campaign") but got no answer; no excuse for not checking further," Seelye wrote us this morning, explaining that she had first heard about the video from a NYT colleague. "Was steeped in something else on Friday and not monitoring the post."

Seelye said she wasn't aware of her mistake until a media reporter inquired about her plans to correct the Caucus blog post -- at which point she reached Greene and "Virgiltexas," and posted a correction and update.

"Should have heeded the doubts raised in my own mind about the origin of the video, but again, no excuse for the rush job," Seelye told us.

We agree.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Year's Best Story To Date: "Top Secret America" In The Washington Post. Yeah, That's Right. The Post.

"Our journalism has never been more glorious."
-- Jill Abramson, NYT managing editor, January 7, 2009

Just as Abramson was crowing about her paper's continued success, Washington Post investigative reporter and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Dana Priest was hard at work on her next blockbuster. It's out today: "Top Secret America," an exhaustive investigation into an underground and seemingly unmanageable secret network of anti-terrorism efforts across the nation. With William M. Arkin, Priest presents an "alternative geography" of the United States that "has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work."

It's a must-read. Here it is.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

NYT Deletes Critical Comment From Former NYT Executive On Bob Herbert's "Tweet Less, Kiss More" Column.

Yesterday afternoon, a former NYT executive named Michael Rosenblum posted a critical comment on Bob Herbert's "Tweet Less, Kiss More" Saturday op-ed column -- an anti-social media diatribe that's still on the NYT's most-emailed list.

"I have no problem with an increasingly interconnected world," Rosenblum wrote, as part of his response to Herbert's essay. "In fact, I like it a lot. And I don't see it as an anti-social activity. Much to the contrary."

But Rosenblum's contrarian observations didn't last long, before the NYT deleted them -- leaving an uninterrupted string of 236 praiseworthy comments on Herbert's column, remarks that ranged from "Amen!" to "Hear hear!" to "You're singing my song!"

In place of Rosenbaum's comment -- #55 -- was the NYT's boilerplate explanation for its comment deletions: "This comment has been removed. Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive."

"I got an email from them confirming it was up," Rosenblum told us via email from vacation in Tuscany, where he posted the comment via his BlackBerry while eating dinner with friends. "Within an hour it was removed. I have no idea by whom or why. I emailed the Times to ask, but as of yet, no answer. The comment was fairly benign, but I note on reading the other ones that I was the only one to disagree with Mr Herbert."

Rosenblum suggested to The NYTPicker that his comment might have been removed because of his past relationship with the NYT, where he worked as a television executive in the late 1990s.

"I was, for two years, both the founder and the first president of New York Times Television, when Punch Sulzberger bought my company," Rosenblum emailed us. "Arthur Jr. [current NYT publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.] and I did not get along (to put it mildly)." Rosenblum now runs a video journalism company called RosenblumTV.

The NYT website tells readers that"most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, " but adds that "moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can."

"We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely," the policy states. "We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence and SHOUTING."

Most of Rosenblum's comment was a benign defense of Twitter, which he considers an ongoing part of the evolution of modern communication.

"Since neolithic times our culture has been shaped by the tools we have embraced," he wrote. "I have no doubt that somewhere near Lascaux some caveman was yelling at his kid: put down that damned stone axe and pay attention. Little has changed."

This morning, we asked the NYT for comment on why Rosenblum's comment was removed, and whether it had anything to do with his previous NYT employment. This afternoon, NYT spokeswoman Diane McNulty issued a statement in response to our inquiry. "Just a reminder," McNulty said via email. "We don't respond to anonymous bloggers."

The Bride Wore Pants! In Style Change, Today's NYT Dubs Man In Gay Wedding Announcement As "The Bride."

In today's announcement of the Vermont marriage last night of Edward Farley and Matthew Horowitz, there's an odd and unexpected distinction given to Matthew.

The NYT refers to him as "the bride."

"[Mr. Horowitz] is the son of Sylvia Horowitz and Barry Horowitz of Wilton, Conn," the NYT wrote. "The bride's mother is an independent nutritionist, yoga teacher and personal trainer. His father works in Manhattan as a vice president and the general merchandise manager for Girl Scouts of the USA."

And yet Farley is nowhere referred to as "the groom."

The "bride" is an agent with Creative Artists Agency in New York. Maybe he negotiated the "bride" billing up front!

A spot-check of several gay wedding announcements in recent months shows no references to either male partner as a "bride." Typically, the NYT avoids the gender-specific label by simply saying, "He is the son of..." and avoiding the problem altogether.

Today's style change strikes us as a bold new step in some direction, though we're not sure what. Do gay rights activists want to see gender labels restored to wedding announcements for men? Or can the NYT just be enjoying its authority to subjectively assign one partner a "bride" label, just for fun?

Either way, it's sweet!

UPDATE: This afternoon, the NYT posted a carefully-worded correction of its earlier reference to Matthew Horowitz as a "bride." Here's what now appears at the bottom on the online version of the announcement:

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 18, 2010

An earlier version of this announcement misidentified Sylvia Horowitz. She is the mother of Mr. Horowitz.

Our hat's off to the unnamed author of this correction, who deftly managed to fix the mistake without even admitting to it. Nicely played, NYT!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Ethics Breach: NYT's Brian Stelter Announces On TimesCast That He's Happily Bought An iPhone 4. "I Can't Imagine Returning It," He Says.

50. "Staff members may not offer endorsements or testimonials for books, films, television programs or any other programs, products or ventures."

--NYT Company Policy On Ethics In Journalism.

On Wednesday's edition of "TimesCast," Brian Stelter -- who has written about Apple many times in his capacity as a TV and digital media reporter for the NYT -- made a rather startling statement in the midst of being interviewed about the current controversy over the new iPhone 4.

"And yet as much as I think that Apple can suffer from this," Stelter declared, "I still went ahead and ordered an iPhone 4 last week and I’m still eagerly awaiting it to arrive."

And as for the dropped-call issues that have caused a media firestorm and class-action suits, Stelter stated flatly that those matters don't concern him enough to reconsider his decision.

"I can’t imagine returning it because these phones are so…these phones are such a part of our lives," Stelter told NYT tech blogger Nick Bilton. "These are, really, more and more, they feel like extensions of our hands."

We don't have a problem with Stelter buying an iPhone 4, of course. That's a private decision, and a matter of personal preference. And if Stelter were a columnist or critic, we wouldn't object to him publicly talking about his tastes in phones or computers, the way David Pogue or David Carr do.

But as a NYT reporter, for Stelter to publicly state a preference for the iPhone on a NYT broadcast -- as opposed to, say, an Android or BlackBerry -- represents a clear endorsement of one product over another, in clear violation of the NYT prohibition on endorsements.

Beyond that, Stelter's announcement that he "can't imagine returning" the iPhone is taking sides in a controversy which -- as he well knows -- is still being hotly debated in the smart phone industry and among customers. The NYT has reported frequently on the complaints, class-action suits and other issues surrounding the iPhone 4's problems with dropped phone calls.

In fact, Stelter himself addressed those issues as a preface to his iPhone 4 endorsement.

"It's a pivotal moment for Apple because they haven't had a glitch of this magnitude before," Stelter said. "And they haven't had to respond to it over the course of weeks. Consumer Reports coming out this week and saying, 'We don't recommend this phone.' Really it came down with a lot of weight. And it reveals that this is only going to to worsen for Apple."

But those issues didn't dissuade Stelter from publicly discussing his purchase on the NYT website, in direct violation of rules that exist to keep reporters from making public statements about their private preferences.

Contacted by The NYTPicker, Stelter declined to comment.

UPDATE: David Folkenflik, a media correspondent for NPR who we greatly admire, just re-tweeted this story with this question attached: "What if he said he loved Springsteen?" Okay, we'll bite.

To love Springsteen is to express a musical taste, not a product preference. Yes, we'll grant that Springsteen makes money when people buy his music. But Springsteen's primary objective in writing music isn't to make money -- whereas Apple, a publicly-traded company, exists to make money for its shareholders.

You can feel free to disagree with us, Dave, but we don't think it's fair to consider Springsteen's music a "product." And when we buy a Springsteen album or download a Springsteen song -- or when we tell our friends how much we dig The Boss -- it doesn't preclude us from buying the latest hit from Beyonce or Taylor Swift, moments later.

But we don't have two cell phones in our pocket, and we doubt you do, either. By announcing to the world that he has chosen the iPhone over the Android or the BlackBerry, Stelter has endorsed a product in a competitive industry he himself covers -- which is exactly what those pesky NYT ethics rules were written to prevent.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We Posted An Item About Dave Anderson's Steinbrenner Column. Then We Took It Down. Here's What Happened.

We posted something a little while ago. Reconsidered. Took it down. Did we break the "rules" of the blogosphere? Supposedly. Did we do the right thing? Yes. It was kinda dumb, and we didn't want it hanging around.

UPDATE: Commenters are making fair points. Here's what happened.

Late this afternoon, we posted an item making fun of a lede by Dave Anderson in tomorrow's paper, about George Steinbrenner. It was quickly pointed out to us that Anderson is in his 80's -- a distinguished sports columnist with an extraordinary history and a Pulitzer Prize -- and that the lede was in keeping with his personal writing style. We didn't know any of that. We should have. Our mistake.

We took it down, after it had been up only a few minutes. Maybe not the smoothest move, and we know it probably cost us some credibility with our readers, but we'd rather pay that price than leave the item up with our name behind it. If we've lost readers as a result, fair enough. But we hope you'll stick around.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

NYT Columnist Nicholas Kristof Admits: "I Tend To Focus" On The 'White Foreigner As Savior, Black African As Victim' Narrative.

In an unusually frank discussion of his approach, NYT columnist Nicholas D. Kristof has acknowledged that a key component of his narrative strategy is to emphasize the role of white foreigner as the savior of poor black Africans in need of help.

"Very often I do go to developing countries where local people are doing extraordinary work," Kristof conceded Friday in a video posted on his blog, "and instead I tend to focus on some foreigner, often some American, who’s doing something there."

Kristof -- a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning op-ed columnist who focuses much of his attention on Third World problems including rape, prostitution, hunger and lack of education - has been praised by presidents and world leaders for his compassionate and determined effort to help the destitute.

But to some of his readers, Kristof has demonstrated, at times, a condescending superiority over those he wants to help -- portraying himself, and other Americans working on these issues, as seemingly necessary to the process of bringing about change.

Those feelings bubbled over into public discussion late Friday afternoon, as Kristof answered questions from readers via YouTube. The columnist found himself on the defensive from a reader who rightly observed a pattern in his standard narrative -- one that often focused on the foreign, typically American "savior" helping the poor Africans in need, to the exclusion of efforts of black Africans themselves to bring about change on the ground.

Indeed, Kristof's answer -- while defensive in citing some specific examples of columns that cited the work of Africans doing good -- acknowledged that he has purposefully chosen this narrative thrust for his columns, simply to ensure that his columns are better read by those inclined to flip past stories about Africa, poverty and other painful topics.

Here's the full text of Kristof's reply, as transcribed by The NYTPicker:

One reader says, "Your columns about Africa almost always feature black Africans as victims, and white foreigners as their saviors." This is a really important issue for a journalist. And it's one I've thought a lot about.

I should, first of all, from my defensive crouch, say that I think you're a little bit exxagerating the way I have reported. Indeed, recently, for example, among the Africans who I have emphasized, the people who are doing fantastic work are the extraordinary Dr. Dennis Muquege in the Congo, Edna Adan in Somaliland, Valentino Deng in Sudan, Manute Bol in Sudan, and there are a lot of others.

But I do take your point. That very often I do go to developing countries where local people are doing extraordinary work, and instead I tend to focus on some foreigner, often some American, who’s doing something there.

And let me tell you why I do that. The problem that I face -- my challenge as a writer -- in trying to get readers to care about something like Eastern Congo, is that frankly, the moment a reader sees that I'm writing about Central Africa, for an awful lot of them, that's the moment to turn the page. It's very hard to get people to care about distant crises like that.

One way of getting people to read at least a few grafs in is to have some kind of a foreign protagonist, some American who they can identify with as a bridge character.

And so if this is a way I can get people to care about foreign countries, to read about them, ideally, to get a little bit more involved, then I plead guilty.

But in fact, Kristof has barely mentioned -- if at all -- the people he cites as examples of "Africans who I have emphasized, people who are doing extraordinary work."

-- Dr. Denis Mukwege Mukengere --
a doctor at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, where he treats victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo -- came up towards the end of a Kristof column on February 17, 2010, for a few paragraphs.

-- Edna Adan, who runs an obstetrics clinic in Somaliland, has been mentioned only once in a Kristof column, at the tail end of a February 25, 2007 piece about Catherine Hamlin -- a white, Australian gynecologist who Kristof describes as the "Mother Teresa of our age."

-- Valentino Deng, a former refugee and, more recently, the builder of a school in the Sudan, first appeared as the subject of a Kristof column on December 17, 2009 -- three years after the writer Dave Eggers made Deng famous via the bestselling book, "What Is The What?"

-- Manute Bol only turned up in a Kristof column on June 24, 2010, three days after his death had already attracted worldwide attention to the former basketball star's efforts to help the downtrodden in Sudan.

This isn't to say, of course, that Kristof hasn't done wonders for those in need all around the world. His passion for those less fortunate deserves our praise and our attention.

But the unnamed reader raises a reasonable point -- that the perception of Kristof as a "white man savior," fair or not, is served by his ongoing attention to the efforts of outsiders to help those who seemingly cannot help themselves. It's a narrative that, intentionally or not, plays into the notion of Kristof as a saintly figure. Enhancing that perception was Kristof's willingness to appear as the central character in "Reporter." the recent HBO documentary that followed the columnist on an expedition through central Africa, the camera usually focused on him.

It's an easy attack on Kristof to suggest that he's condescending when he writes about the problems of Africans -- though it pops up frequently on the web, most recently in reference to a column about how some African men spend more money on alcohol than on family necessities.

"[Kristof] manages to condescend to the people he purports to 'understand' by stereotyping every poor man on the continent as a lazy drunk," wrote Laura Seay, an assistant professor of political science at Morehouse College in Atlanta, on her blog.

Harsh words, and we don't necessarily agree. It's easy to attack Kristof for generalizing about problems and solutions, but there's no denying the courage it takes to address uncomfortable racial issues head-on. He has chosen a beat that's far more challenging than those taken by his op-ed colleagues Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman and David Brooks, who -- when they do venture forth from their offices to do an interview -- often just go to someone else's office, bigger than their own.

Having said that, there's wisdom in the question posed to Kristof on Friday. We think he would do well to ponder it and push himself to question his ongoing narrative. Maybe he'll find a different storyline that reflects even more courage and vision, and puts aside his homegrown American heroes in favor of the richer yarns found on the ground.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Um, Andy Newman? Next Time You Try To Fry An Egg On The Sidewalk, Don't Use A Freakin' FRYING PAN. Sheesh.

So, was it hot enough in New York yesterday to fry an egg on the sidewalk?

We'll never know.

In today's NYT, Andy Newman reports that he attempted to test the old cliche by taking to the streets with an egg -- AND A FRYING PAN.

Newman then placed the frying pan on the sidewalk and attempted to heat the pan to sufficient temperatures to fry an egg.

Didn't work. Why not? Well, we're not scientists but we do know our way around a cliche. And an egg.

The cliche clearly states that the egg must be fried on the sidewalk. Not on a pan. That's because the heat you need to fry an egg comes from under the egg, not from above it. At least, that's how it works in our kitchen!

We'll be happy to stand corrected -- and knowing our eagle-eyed naysayers, we will be within moments -- but it seems unlikely to us that any sidewalk south of, say, the planet Venus would be hot enough to raise a frying pan's temperature to the point where an egg has any chance of turning sunnyside up.

Possible stories for Andy Newman to pursue next: will today be as hot as firecrackers? Will the passengers on his number-6 train be packed like sardines? And come the frigid days of winter, we're seriously hoping he'll tell us, firsthand, whether it's colder than a witch's tit.

Tech Guru Tim O'Reilly Claims "Words Put Into My Mouth" By NYT's Ashlee Vance In Monday's Microsoft Story.

Silicon Valley tech guru Tim O'Reilly has blasted NYT reporter Ashlee Vance for what he terms "words put into my mouth" in his Monday business story on the declining fortunes of Microsoft's consumer business.

"I feel more than a little misrepresented," O'Reilly has written in a blog post that went up last night, referring to Vance's business-section front-page feature, "Microsoft Calling. Anybody There?" "It's sad when the NYT uses 'flamebait' techniques in its stories. Rather than real journalism, this felt like a reporter trying to create controversy rather than report news."

O'Reilly -- an influential computer-book publisher responsible for the "Missing Manuals" series, and widely associated with the popular "Web 2.0" concept -- was quoted throughout Vance's story, which set out to show Microsoft's struggle to compete in a youth-dominated consumer-electronics market.

In the blog post, O'Reilly contends that only one of six quotes were, in fact, things he told the NYT reporter.

O'Reilly's blog post notes that he basically agreed with the thrust of Vance's story, as well as some of the statements attributed to him. But he insists in some instances that he never gave the quotes to Vance, and in others that the reporter ignored his other points in favor of a more sensational narrative.

"I don't remember saying anything like: 'Microsoft is totally off the radar of the cool, hip, cutting-edge software developers,' O'Reilly writes. "My memory is that Ashlee opened our conversation with that assertion, which I countered by saying that Microsoft still has big, active developer communities, and that you shouldn't assume that just because you can't see them in San Francisco, that they are dead."

We reached Vance for comment late last night, while on vacation. Among other things, we asked him if he'd heard from O'Reilly directly about his accusations that he had been misrepresented in the story.

"Am checking my email now and see that Tim did contact me via email," Vance wrote us. "Not sure if it was before or after the post went up, since I've been mostly off the grid since Saturday."

As to O'Reilly's specific allegations, Vance asked for "a bit of time" to respond. We told him we would hold our post until this morning. We've posted n the absence of any further comment -- and in the light of several Twitter comments on O'Reilly's post -- but will update if we do hear from Vance again. ("It seems like the Times prefers not to "comment to anonymous bloggers" from what I've gathered," he wrote in his original email, adding amiably: "But if you give me a shot, I will see what I can do.")

O'Reilly, who founded O'Reilly Media, a company that publishes books and runs conferences, listed several other quotes attributed to him in Vance's story that he contends he didn't say:

Ashlee also wrote:

"Mr. O’Reilly traces part of the problem back to the company’s developers. Microsoft spends a great deal of time and money shepherding a vast network of partner companies and people that base their livelihoods on improving and supporting Microsoft’s products.

"These software developers and technicians have bet their careers on Microsoft and largely benefited from that choice. In addition, they have helped keep Microsoft relevant during the various ups and downs in the technology market."

I don't remember saying anything of the kind. It may be true, but I am not the source.

O'Reilly goes on to deny nearly all the rest of his quotes in the story, with a single exception:

The only comment from myself that I recognized at all was this one:

"Mr. O’Reilly said the quick cancellation of the Kin may demonstrate that Microsoft has finally seen the depth of its woes when it comes to attracting consumers and younger audiences. “This should be seen as a success for them,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “They grew fat and happy, but are now waking up to their different competitive position.”

O'Reilly's reference to "flamebait reporting" uses an Internet term that describes that act of saying something solely for the purpose of inflaming debate on the subject. The implication of O"Reilly's objection is that Vance misquoted him for the purpose of making his story more controversial.

O'Reilly hasn't responded to an email seeking further comment on his blog post. It's unclear whether O'Reilly has made any formal complaint to the NYT about the story.

According to Wikipedia, the South African-born Vance was a reporter for The Register -- a British website that covered the technology industry -- for five years before joining the NYT staff in September of 2008 as a technology reporter. In 2007 he published his first book, Geek Silicon Valley:
The Inside Guide to Palo Alto, Stanford, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, San Jose, San Francisco.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

As A NYT Reporter, Bill Keller Freely Used The Word "Torture" To Describe Interrogation Techniques In Other Countries.

If the word torture, rooted in the Latin for “twist,” means anything (and it means “the deliberate infliction of excruciating physical or mental pain to punish or coerce”), then waterboarding is a means of torture.

-- William Safire, "On Languge," NYT Magazine, March 9, 2008

On February 18, 1987, a 38-year-old NYT reporter named Bill Keller published his first story about torture.

The young Moscow correspondent -- who, two years later, would win the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Soviet Union -- referred to "the torture case" in writing eloquently about revelations that officials in Petrozavodsk, in the Karelian republic, had been fired in the wake of torture accusations.

The Soviet Union, of course, was famous for its frequent denials that its institutions, including the K.G.B., used torture to interrogate its citizens. But as NYT reporter Scott Shane wrote in June of 2007, comparing 1950s Soviet torture to present-day American interrogation techniques: "Soviets denied such treatment was torture, just as American officials have in recent years."

Shane wrote those words in a "word-for-word" essay in the "Week In Review" section that carried the headline, "Soviet-Style ‘Torture’ Becomes ‘Interrogation.'"

Keller went on to write more than a dozen stories for the NYT -- from the Soviet Union and, later, South Africa -- that referenced interrogation techniques as "torture." His stories never alluded to any questioning of the term by the governments that used the techniques.

And while history has established without question that both the Soviet Union and South Africa subjected its prisoners to torture techniques, it has also made clear that those governments never acknowledged their actions as "torture" -- at least not until well after world outcry brought them to an end.

Keller's reportorial approach strikes us as relevant this morning, as the NYT's executive editor has come under fire for his comments yesterday defending the NYT's refusal to refer to "waterboarding" as torture in its news pages.

A study by students at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard has documented that the NYT had used the term "torture" to describe waterboarding only twice in 143 references between 2002 and 2008 -- after having called it torture in 44 of 54 stories between 1931 and 1999.

"Waterboarding" is a form of water torture in which a prisoner is held still while water is poured over the face to simulate the feeling of drowning, while leaving no physical marks.

Keller vigorously disputed the study in a story posted on the NYT website last night, and insisted that the NYT's policy of not calling waterboarding "torture" -- which he referred to as "a politically correct term of art" -- is entirely proper. He called the Harvard student study "misleading and tendentious."

Keller's argument is that because Bush administration officials have objected to the use of the term "torture" in describing waterboarding, for the NYT to use it in its news pages "amounts to taking sides in a political dispute."

But what Keller's current stance ignores is his own position as a reporter: that a government's definition of torture doesn't necessarily match the reality.

In his own foreign reporting, Keller didn't bother to clutter his stories with the obvious -- and irrelevant -- denials by Soviet and South African government officials that they were engaged in torture. He used his own judgement to recognize torture for what it was.

"A factory worker, according to the report, was kicked so severely that doctors had to remove a ruptured spleen," Keller wrote in his 1987 account of Soviet police brutality. "The medical report said doctors had found three pints of clotted blood in the abdomen."

In applying a different standard to the NYT's coverage of waterboarding, Keller has betrayed a reprehensible weakness in the face of his own government's stance on torture -- one that he never showed in his years as a courageous and straightforward reporter.

Friday, July 2, 2010